I was at my grandmother's house many years ago when she asked me to hand her the church key from the drawer beside the sink. Ten year old me had no idea why my grandmother was asking for a key, nevertheless, one to a church, but I obliged and opened up the drawer. After pushing aside a can opener and a few loose pieces of papers I looked back at her and let her know I couldn't find it. Coming up behind me she reaches into the drawer and picks up the can opener.
"Sorry, I meant the can opener, sweetie." She ruffles my hair with her fingers and goes back to the can of tomato juice on the counter. Using the sharp point, she leaves a triangle hole in the top of the lid and pours the red liquid into a pitcher.
Why Do People Call Can Openers Church Keys?
Before we had electric can openers and crank can openers, people opened their bottles and cans that looked like the same ornate keys pastors and priests used to open up their church doors. Invented to open up a bottle cap or "crown cork." the church key can opener was created out of necessity in the early 1900s.
Mr. J. R. Oberhofer, a brewer in Milwaukee is quoted in a January 1980 JFO Newsletter by Don Bull sharing his thoughts on the beer bottle opener.
"The expression church key is old in the brewing business,' he wrote. "I worked in a brewery for about 35 years and everybody carried a bottle opener or church key, perhaps so called because it looked like the top end of the kind of heavy ornate key used to unlock church doors."
Years later after the end of the prohibition beer brewers started producing beer cans. Without pull tabs, drinkers were required to use a device to open the flat top of the can before drinking the beer. The bottle opener gave way to the can opener and the name still stuck. Invented by D.F. Sampson for the American Can Company, most companies gave away free keys with beer cans
The next time someone asks for a church key, you'll know they mean the can opener.